What’s that joke about how many guitarists does it take to screw in a light bulb?
Well, forget about the malicious punch line for a moment—even if it’s dead-on accurate—because, right now, there is nothing competitive or selfish or remotely abusive about this collaborative convocation of metal guitarists. Each of the 12 players we contacted were more than happy to share their gear setups and musical insights with GP readers, and while the discussion is focused on metal, there’s a lot to learn for guitarists of all styles.
So let’s meet the panel and identify their new releases:
• Mark Tremonti, Cauterize [Fret12]
• Dan Donegan of Disturbed, Immortalized [Reprise]
• Willie Adler and Mark Morton of Lamb of God, VII: Sturm und Drang [Nuclear Blast]
• Michael Wilton and Parker Lundgren of Queensryche, Condition Hüman [Century Media]
• Matthias Jabs of the Scorpions, Return to Forever [Sony]
• Gus G from Ozzy Osbourne’s band, his new solo album, Brand New Revolution [Century Media]
• David Andersson of Soilwork, The Ride Majestic [Nuclear Blast]
• Francesco Artusato of Devil You Know, They Bleed Red [Nuclear Blast]
• Brian Eschbach of Black Dahlia Murder, Abysmal [Metal Blade]
• Bobby Cannon of Discordia, Discordia [CCENT]
Not every player answered every question, and, to be honest, we also edited the responses so that readers didn’t have to constantly scan down the same 12 respondents for every query. That could be a bit daunting—unless you enjoy reading old encyclopedias from cover to cover. Here’s what our “Metal jury” had to say…
How did you approach the material for your new album?
Tremonti: We spent about four times as long preparing for this record than my first solo album, because I wanted to make sure we could spend a lot of time tearing down each song—even if we thought it was perfect. I wanted to rearrange things in as many ways as possible so we could figure out if a particular direction was absolutely the right one. Every transition had to be perfect. Another thing was to learn as much as possible on the guitar, because I tend to stay in my own little bubble when I’m writing, and I didn’t want to play the same old licks and tricks. I always need to learn new techniques and study new developments so that people aren’t just hearing the same thing from me over and over.
Artusato: I kind of stopped listening to music while writing for this album. I was also trying to not repeat myself with any ideas I used on previous records.
Wilton: I did what I have been doing for the last 30 plus years. Ideas come into my head, I quickly document them, give them a day’s rest, and listen to what I think are keepers. Then, I build the ideas up to a point where they need a rest and repeat the process.
Lundgren: I consulted the other guys in the band when writing and rewriting guitar solos. It was cool to have everyone involved, and to get their opinions every step of the way.
Gus G: I actually rerecorded all of my solos twice. After I initially recorded them, I decided I didn’t like them at all, so I deleted them, and basically redid everything in my home studio.
Eschbach: The stuff kind of comes to me out of nowhere. But I do listen to a lot of Rachmaninoff while chilling out to try to wipe my mind clear.
Morton: I think the goal these days is to be fresh and honest about who we are creatively and how those things work together as a group. In that sense, our new album is a success, because it truly does represent what we sound like, and because it was the most collaborative album we’ve done probably in over a decade.
Andersson: The rhythm parts were constructed during the actual writing process, so the harmonies and counterpoint stuff were worked out before we entered the studio. However, we tried to keep the demos quite basic so there was still some space left for spontaneity and improvisation. As for the leads, one of my favorite players growing up was Randy Rhoads, and, on this album, I tried to use the approach I imagine he had on those Ozzy albums—which is to compose the main part of the solo, but leave some spaces for improvised stuff. We wanted a Scandinavian melancholic feeling to the album, so I tried to sneak in some melodic minor whenever I could. There’s something about those major 6ths and 7ths in a minor metal context that makes me think about Swedish suburban anxiety, but in a nice, bittersweet way.
Queensryche (Parker Lundgren is left; Michael Wilton at right).
Cannon: Discordia is labeled as a “symphonic metal” band. One radio deejay even said we sounded like a metal version of the old Hammer horror films. I love those films, and, in fact, they do influence my writing—which is probably why I like to add in a lot of different elements when I’m composing.
Donegan: We had five years off between albums—and four years off the road—but I think that even though we’ve all evolved during that long layoff, there are always going to be things that are “signature us,” and those things are not going to drastically change. But there are also things that have happened to us over the past five years that will add to our arsenal. I’m always trying to push myself creatively, because I’m under pressure to deliver music that’s going to inspire the rest of the guys. I’m not worried about the critics or other people’s expectations—it’s the band I need to impress.
How do you keep your guitar playing fresh and surprising to your fans?
Tremonti: I’m always real hard on myself. Sometimes, I write solos in one sitting, and, other times, it can take weeks. For me, keeping it fresh is about creating new melodies within the songs, and hitting all those sweet notes. To get there, I often like to write in different tunings, because then the song is never going to sound like the next guy. “Providence,” for example, was in open D5. I liked the challenge that presented, because the strings were so taut that I couldn’t do a lot of bending. I had to make use of open strings and come up with some cool chord voicings. I took me a good five days to get the “Providence” solo together. I also try to stay away from playing pentatonic scales or riffing in E minor. A couple of the songs on the new record were challenging because of the chord progressions, and I ended up having to play the solos in the Phrygian Dominant mode—which is not something that comes natural to me. I have to just map that stuff out. But the upside is that when I get like, “There’s no way in the world I can learn enough stuff to fill all the solos on the album with fresh ideas,” the challenges force me to think differently, and, once I get into it, the result is often new and fresh melodies.
Eschbach: Probably just crossing my fingers! I try not to write with any specific goal or intention. I just try to let things develop organically.
Morton: Willie and I brought in lots of pieces of music for this record, but they weren’t quite as complete as they’d been in the past. So the approach was instantly more collaborative than before, and it made for some pretty interesting results sonically. It’s not a super-different, revolutionary album—it still sounds like Lamb of God—but the way the songs flowed and the riffs interacted was all fresh for us.
Donegan: It was much the same for us. I definitely presented ideas to get the ball rolling, but they were very raw. In the studio, it was very much, “Stay in the moment, keep an open mind, and let the magic happen.” The collaboration was almost total, and the respect we have for each other is so strong that if someone wasn’t feeling something, there were no egos getting in the way of changing any parts. So it wasn’t like pulling teeth to get us to try new and different things.
Andersson: To be honest, I mostly try to keep my playing fresh and surprising for my own sake, but if anyone notices what I’m trying to do, it’s a huge bonus. I try to sneak in as much slide guitar and fusion influences as possible, as well as hopefully a slightly different approach to the more classic metal techniques.
Artusato: I like to mix moments of density with simpler parts to create different dynamics and interesting contrasts. I also like to write with 6-, 7-, and 8-string guitars and mix fast songs and ballads while exploring unusual and progressive song structures. I think this translates to a variety of material that keeps the listener excited and interested in hearing more.
What do you feel sets you apart from other metal guitarists?
Wilton: I’m not really sure. I just play what I feel.
Lundgren: The dual guitar parts have always been very interesting on all of the Queensryche albums. It’s very rare in a Queensryche song that both guitars are playing the same thing. Michael and Chris [DeGarmo, original Queensryche co-guitarist] developed a cool style where both guitars build and feed off of one another. We keep that classic sound going in our more recent material.
Gus G: I’d say my ability to blend in soulful melodies and traditional hard-rock playing with modern metal techniques and sound. Sure I can shred, but I’m not really Mr. Arpeggio.
Tremonti: I try not to repeat myself.
Cannon: I just do what I do. I write a solo that I feel is right for the integrity of the composition. I always approach everything in a Michael Schenker sense [laughs]. I want the solo to blend in, and to be a memorable part of the song. I’m not into showing off or overplaying just for the sake of doing so.
Donegan: For me, it has always been about trusting my ear and playing what feels right to me. I play what moves me, so I’m going to play something whether it’s technically right or not. I’ve had friends that won’t take risks because they were taught a certain way. They won’t bend the rules. And, to me, there is no rulebook. It’s music. You just play whatever the hell you want to play. If it sounds good to you, that’s all that matters. I’ve always just had that approach of whether it’s technically a right note or a wrong note, I’m just going to play what I feel, and that’s that.
Andersson: I love metal, but I was never influenced by metal guitarists. So if anything sets me apart, I guess that it’s the fact my main influences are people like Tommy Bolin, Scott Henderson, John McLaughlin, and Steve Hackett, and that I try to incorporate those elements into my playing—even if it’s not always obvious.
Artusato: My parents would take me to classical concerts and rock concerts. When you are growing up, and one week you get to experience opera, and the next week, an Elton John concert, you just end up developing a certain sensibility for music. My experience at Berklee College of Music also really changed me, because I had the chance to write and perform different styles of music. I took a lot of classical-composition classes, as well, which helped me develop a skill for certain, non-blues-based melodies and harmonies. But, mainly, I feel the difference is that I’ve been striving for many years to become a good writer. I believe that being a good composer is what matters the most.
What’s your definition of the perfect lead and rhythm tones?
Andersson: Ritchie Blackmore’s lead tone on “Strange Kind of Woman” from Made in Japan, and Tony Iommi’s rhythm tone on “Into the Void” from Master of Reality.
Eschbach: The perfect tone should make the listener want to punch through bricks and crush them to dust!
Artusato: A great lead tone is round and smooth with a good amount of distortion for nice sustaining notes, but never too much, otherwise you lose dynamics and feel. I also like fairly wet lead tones—a pretty long delay with a fair amount of repetitions, but not too many, and a little bit of reverb. The perfect rhythm tone should sound really good with the rest of the instruments. Guitar players often spend days working on a tone that only sounds good by itself, and that’s pointless. I like a good amount of mids—as long as the guitar doesn’t start to sound honky—and it’s incredibly important to have a very controlled amount of gain. There’s no need for an extremely distorted tone on a rhythm guitar. You want to hear the attack and the articulation.
Wilton: It’s all about the perfect midrange.
Gus G: In the studio, I want my rhythm tone to be tight, and the lead tone to have lots of midrange and a more open and less harsh sound. In a live situation, I actually use one amp sound for both rhythm and lead, and I play a lot with the Volume knob on my guitar. You’d be surprised how many different tones you can get out of that!
Is there a favorite trick or technique that you used on your new release?
Gus G: I set my guitar on fire while recording the solo on “Burn.” Just kidding, folks!
Donegan: It’s not really a technique, but I like geeking out like a mad scientist to try to get unique tones. It’s kind of boring for the other guys when I’m experimenting with pedals or just random things, but I like the challenge of getting odd or unusual tones out of everyday things. It could be as simple as moving the knobs on a pedal I’ve used forever to see if there’s a drastic change in the tone. But I’ve also done things like move a lit candle over the tube of my Rocktron Banshee Talk Box to see if the changing air pressure affected the tone. That gave me a real buzzy transistor-y sound. I always have fun experimenting.
Artusato: The verse riff in “Master Of None” is pretty intricate, and it combines a lot of different techniques—alternate picking, legato, slide, economy picking, and open strings. The intro of the song is doubled with an acoustic guitar, and that was not easy to track! But I really dig the sound.
Lundgren: There are some cool harmonized solos on a lot of the songs—which are always interesting to work on. You start with one guitar part, and then experiment with which intervals to harmonize at which parts. It was usually minor and major 3rds, 5ths, and octaves, but sometimes we tried 4ths, 6ths, or 7ths to get demented prog sounds.
Jabs: I used to hold my pick with my thumb and the side of my first finger, but, a while back, I started gripping it between my thumb and the index and middle fingertips, because it allowed me to constantly change my angle of attack and produce different tones. People would often think I was using a wah pedal or a phaser to get a sound that was actually achieved by moving my point of attack back and forth along the string’s edge.
Andersson: One thing I do a lot with Soilwork is to use four-note patterns with a two-notes-per-string fingering, and move that pattern up and down in octaves, picking each note. I’m really tired of playing and listening to pure diatonic scales played up and down whenever there’s a solo, so I prefer playing pentatonic scales, or choosing a few notes out of the scale and trying to do something interesting with those notes.
Tremonti: I recently tackled getting my right hand to do some country-style fingerpicking, but keep it more rock. In fact, one lick that I used on the record—one that I really love—was something I learned from Brad Paisley. It’s one of those licks that sound flashy and tough, but, once you get it under your fingers, it’s actually real nice and easy. A lot of people don’t realize just how much your sound can change—and how much more you can do—when you use your fingers and throw away the pick. For example, Richie Kotzen dared himself to stop using a pick a while back, and he sounds amazing. I’m trying to do the same thing, but I can’t completely abandon my pick, because the heavy nature of my rhythm style wouldn’t sound the same without it. But as far as lead stuff goes, I would love to be able to throw away my pick.
What’s your assessment of the current musical status of metal?
Donegan: I love seeing the hunger from a young band, because I’ve also seen a lot of lazy bands who expect a free ride once they get their foot in the door. That doesn’t help anybody. But then you’ll see bands piled into a van, laying on top of the drum kit, and driving from city to city to be on stage again. They’ll do whatever it takes to sell a few t-shirts to scrape up enough money to make it to the next town. That’s what it takes. I’ve been there before, and it still inspires me to see bands with that much passion. I admire them for fighting the fight. That fire is what drives the music and excites the fans.
Gus G: There’s lots of metal out there these days for sure, but I can’t tell most bands from each other! And, lately, some of the newer and bigger metal bands are saying things like, “We don’t like metal. We’re punk rock. We don’t like solos.” All this bullsh*t like that. It’s sad, because these guys got their career because of metal fans. But, anyway, there will always be good and bad music around—no matter the style.
Wilton: It all goes in cycles, so I think there will always be innovative metal bands. Metal fans are very loyal, so I’m sure that metal will never die.
Cannon: America’s mainstream media did its best to destroy metal in the ’90s. It didn’t fade out—it literally fell off a cliff. To this day, the mainstream media is still feeding manufactured music to the masses. It has lost the human element completely. It’s the AutoTune, cut-and-paste era. So it’s wonderful that loyal musicians and listeners stuck to their guns and kept waving the metal flag.
Eschbach: There are so many bands playing so many different sub genres. There is really too much going on for anyone to describe it better than, “Metal is infinite and versatile.”
Artusato: There are great bands that are doing their thing and writing great songs, and there are also a lot of bands that don’t really focus enough on writing well-puttogether material. It doesn’t matter what subgenre we are talking about. True, some genres are more repetitive than others, but I just like to listen to good songs. And writing good songs requires more talent than playing technical riffs and solos. A lot of bands these days focus on the technical aspects more than the emotional aspects. Now, I’m also a fan of technical music, as long as it happens for a musical reason.
Andersson: I don’t listen to enough of the new metal records to be able to say anything about the scene as a whole, but I really like the fact that there’s room for so much diversity these days. The only criticism I might have is that shred guitar has become boring. Having been around in the ’90s, I was really happy when people started being interested in playing a bit more advanced stuff on the guitar again. But, for me, things are often a bit too perfect now. A lot of the young players are extremely impressive, and they are doing stuff I could only dream of doing, but I like to hear that there’s a living, highly imperfect person playing the instrument. The things I like when listening to other guitarists are often the things that make you slightly uncomfortable as a listener—when things are almost out of tune, or you start worrying the person will screw up totally any moment, but you can still hear that they’re fantastic musicians.
Morton: I don’t know how to answer that question. To be honest with you, I don’t really listen to heavy metal [laughs]. But if history is any indication, there’s no limit to how extreme any realm of any genre can get, because I can tell you from my experience that there was a time where we were considered a very extreme band. We are no longer. We’re on the radio, and we play corporate-funded festivals. So within the genre of heavy metal, we’re a somewhat mainstream band. There was a time where that wouldn’t have even seemed possible for a band like us.
Adler: I question if I’m getting older, or if some stuff is just purely unlistenable. I’m sure there is always going to be another generation to push metal to a further extreme. I’m actually excited to see if it gets any heavier.
Any last thoughts?
Gus G: At the end of the day, you have to do this for yourself. You have to be happy first and foremost. I like to practice guitar all the time, so I want to think that I’m getting better every day, and, hopefully, that shows on my albums.
Wilton: Pick hard! Fret light!
Tremonti: I think there are two different kinds of guitar players. There are the guys that improvise and sing with their guitar, and they don’t worry about technique. And then you’ve got the guys—and I used to be this guy for years—who will sit down and learn sweep patterns and force a technique into a solo. Four years ago, I started getting more into blues and jazz players, and I was floored at how good these players were—their touch and tone and dynamics and sense of melody. Suddenly, I wasn’t interested anymore in the guys doing the super-fast shred stuff, and I’m still not. I think the takeaway here is not to become completely immersed in any one style or approach, because there’s so much guitar stuff to learn when you start exploring, and all those things can help you become a better guitar player—no matter what style you choose as your main focus.
THE MAIN GEAR USED BY OUR ROUNDTABLE PLAYERS
Lamb of God
Guitars: ESP Will Adler Warbird.
Amps: Mesa/Boogie Mark IV, Mark V, and Royal Atlantic.
Essential Pedals: Mesa/Boogie Grid Slammer.
Strings: SIT Signature sets, .010-.048 and .011-.050.
Guitars: ESP M-II Horizon.
Amp: Blackstar HT Metal 100 with 4x12 cab.
Essential Pedals: TC Electronics PolyTune, Way Huge Ring Worm Modulator.
Strings: Dunlop, .011-.056.
Picks: Dunlop Nylon, .88mm.
Devil You Know
Guitars: Ibanez 6-, 7-, and 8-string guitars—some are RGAs made by the L.A. Custom Shop, and some are Japanese-made Prestiges. All have Seymour Duncan pickups (“My favorite combination is a Distortion on the bridge and Sentient on the neck”).
Amp: Laney IRT120H Ironheart with a Laney straight cab.
Essential Pedals: Ibanez TS808, Line 6 POD HD Pro, MXR Analog Chorus, Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive, Seymour Duncan Vapor Trail.
Strings: Ernie Ball Slinky .010- .046 for 6-string guitars; .010-.062 for 7-string guitars; .010-.072 for 8-string guitars.
Picks: InTune Jazz III, 1.14mm.
Guitars: Schecter Diamond Series C-1 Platinum, 1983 Gibson Les Paul Studio, Washburn Signature Dime V Dimebag Darrell Signature.
Amps: Peavey XXL (“Given to me as a gift by Damien Sisson from Death Angel”) used as a preamp, and run into a Peavey 6505 combo.
Essential Pedals: Boss GE-7, Boss CH-1 Super Chorus, Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter, Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner, Ibanez DE7 Delay/Echo.
Strings: D’Addario EXL120, .009-.042.
Picks: Dunlop Tortex Standard, 1.14mm.
Guitars: Schecter Dan Donegan Ultra.
Amp: Kemper Profiling Amplifier.
Essential Pedals: Digi- Tech Whammy II, Rocktron Banshee Talk Box.
Strings: GHS Boomers.
Black Dahlia Murder
Guitars: ESP Eclipse Custom.
Amp: Peavey 6505.
Essential Pedals: Line 6 wireless.
Strings: D’Addario EJ22, .013-.056.
Picks: Dunlop Jazz, 2mm.
Guitars: ESP Gus G. NT BLKS Signature.
Amp: Blackstar Blackfire 200 Gus G. Signature with 4x12 cab.
Essential Pedals: Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, Boss DD-7 Digital Delay, Boss CE-5 Stereo Chorus, Boss TU-2 Tuner, Rocktron Black Cat Moan Wah.
Strings: DR Strings Dragon Skins, .010, .014, .018, .032, .042, .056.
Picks: ESP Custom.
Guitars: 1958 Gibson Les Paul, 1959 Gibson Les Paul with Bigsby.
Amps: Custom Skrydstrup R&D preamp, amp, cabinet.
Essential Pedals: None.
Guitars: Caparison Angelus, Caparison Orbit, Fret-King Parker Lundgren Signature Exige and Exige double-neck.
Amp: Kemper Profiling Amplifier.
Essential Pedals: None—uses Kemper onboard effects.
Strings: Dunlop .011 set.
Picks: Dunlop 1.14mm, Planet Waves with Queensryche logos.
Lamb of God
Guitars: Jackson Dominion Mark Morton Signature.
Amps: Mesa/Boogie Mark IV, Mark V, and Royal Atlantic.
Essential Pedals: Dunlop Zakk Wylde Signature Cry Baby, dbx 266XL Dual Compressor/Gate, MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay, MXR GT-OD Overdrive, MXR Phase 90.
Strings: Dunlop Heavy Core, .010-.048.
Guitars: PRS Mark Tremonti Signature, PRS bartitone.
Amps: Van Weelden Twinkleland and Dumble-modded ’56 Fender Deluxe (clean to edgy sounds); Cornford RK100, PRS Archon, Bogner Uberschall (blended for “big dirty stuff” with 40-percent of the tone being the Archon).
Essential Pedals: Dunlop Uni-Vibe, Electro-Harmonix MicroSynth, Morley Mark Tremonti Signature Wah.
Strings: D’Addario EXL115, .011- .049; EXL116, .011-.052.
Guitar: ESP Signature Skull with boost switch, Hard Driver Sustainer, and D-Tuna.
Amp: Kemper Profiling Amplifier.
Essential Pedals: TC Electronic Flashback Mini, Peterson StroboStomp tuner, AKG WMS4000 wireless.
Strings: Dean Markley Helix Pure Nickel, .010-.046, .010-.052, and .011-.049.
Picks: InTune Medium/Heavy